ENJOY THE MOVIES
The CBS News scandal in 2005 that ended anchorman Dan Rather's relationship with the network is put under a microscope in the film Truth, an adult drama that pulls no punches and is massively entertaining. Robert Redford plays the legendary newsman, and seeing him in the role will immediately bring back memories of All the President's Men. Truth never reaches the heights of that previous masterpiece but soars just fine on its own. In fact, writer-turned-director James Vanderbilt (Zodiac, The Amazing Spider-Man) doesn't even focus his film on Rather, he's a background player to the bigger story. Truth really centers on Mary Mapes, Rather's producer and trusted ally. She's played by Cate Blanchett and her performance is ferocious and unflinching, matching Redford's supporting role and Vanderbilt's screenplay beat for beat.
As a screenwriter, Charlie Kaufman has crafted some of the best and weirdest cinematic mind trips imaginable. Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind are among his best but his work in the director's chair has taken his writing to another level. Synecdoche, New York is a work of soul-searching genius and his latest Anomalisa continues to cement Charlie Kaufman's reputation as one of the greatest filmmakers working today. Originally conceived by Kaufman as a short play to debut in composer Carter Burwell's "Theater of a New Ear," the idea to translate the material to the screen quickly became an option but with a twist.
Ilya Naishuller's Hardcore (watch the trailer) is a movie so violent, loud and fun it's guaranteed to offend and entertain in equal numbers. It's also the first of its kind, a first-person action adventure that plays out like a cinematic video game. Think of it as a hybrid of Crank and Robocop and you'll start to get an idea of how unique and insane this movie truly is. Those looking for plot and structure in their cinematic diet will have to look elsewhere because Hardcore is visual fast food all the way. The movie opens from your POV as "Henry", a man with a disfigured body and no memory of how he got knocked out in the first place.
A punk rock concert goes horrible awry in the violent new suspense thriller Green Room, a movie filled with loud music, buckets of blood and white supremacists. The film has a cat-and-mouse structure for most of its running time but thankfully is smart and entertaining enough to have more tricks up its sleeve. The "Ain't Rights" are a punk band on the verge of breaking up for good. As they're introduced, they constantly bicker, continue to play dead-end gigs and as a result are ready to throw in the towel and go home. A last minute opportunity to play a final show in rural Oregon has them reconsider their plans and off they go.
Country music legend Hank Williams was a tortured man plagued by his own success and exuberance. Dying way too young and leaving behind a treasure trove of inspiration, many musicians still credit him to his day. These facts are given a very light touch in Marc Abraham's new biopic I Saw the Light, a movie that tries to encapsulate what made Williams so special but never digs deep enough to get any real answers. British actor Tom Hiddleston slips on a cowboy hat and gives it his all as Williams and the result is a surprising knockout. He is fully devoted to the part so it's a shame the rest of the film can't keep up with him.
The true story of transgender leader Lili Erbe has been watered down for the big screen in Tom Hooper's new film The Danish Girl. What should have been a pioneering story of change and acceptance instead plays it safe and wastes a golden opportunity. Hot off his Oscar win last year for The Theory of Everything, Eddie Redmayne tackles the difficult role of Einar Wegener, a 1920's Danish painter living with his artist wife Gerda (played by Alicia Vikander). In a moment of happenstance she asks him to step in for a model who is running late, the only catch is he's supposed to model women's clothes.
The glamour of 1960's London underworld is captured with varying degrees of success in Brian Helgeland's new film Legend, the story of notorious East end gangsters Ron and Reggie Kray. The fact that both twins are played via CGI by versatile actor Tom Hardy should sweeten the film's appeal were if not for the uneven craftsmanship behind the camera. Celebrated screenwriter Brian Helgeland (of L.A. Confidential, director of 42 and A Knight's Tale) wrote and directed Legend and although many of the tales told in the film have been covered before, his screenplay manages to make them fresh again. The 1990 film The Krays scratched the surface on the volatile brothers' past but Legend digs much deeper.
Caught in an ambiguous middle ground between a political drama and comedy, the new film Our Brand Is Crisis manages to balance itself adequately for most of its running time. Most of the film's charm and power however is due to actress Sandra Bullock, who is clearly gunning for her second Oscar. Bullock commands the lead role originally intended for male counterpart (and the film's producer) George Clooney as a tough-talking political strategist who has seen better days and is now staging an overdue comeback. Inspired by Rachel Boynton's documentary of the same name, Our Brand Is Crisis has all the story beats and rhythms of many underdog movies but the cast and direction are what set it apart from the clutter.
A privileged white collar worker literally decides to tear his old life apart in order to start a new one in Jean-Marc Vallee's Demolition, a movie whose agenda is muddled due to heavy-handed writing and an uneven style behind the camera. Jake Gyllenhaal continues his recent streak of great performances as Davis, a confused financial employee who is introduced at the beginning of the film getting into a head-on collision with his equally confused wife Julia (played by Heather Lind). He survives the crash but is left with little direction in terms of how to move forward. This is a man who at the center of his core refuses to mourn his wife's death and instead channels his grief in other areas.
Continuing the current trend of inspirational science fiction (Interstellar, Tomorrowland), Ridley Scott's latest offering is The Martian, an adaptation of Andy Weir's bestselling novel of the same name. The story is about an astronaut, one of the first to set foot on Mars as part of a small NASA exploration team, who is deserted on the planet and must figure out a way to survive. It's a film about figuring out how to make the impossible possible. And it's a story that is meant to inspire the next generation to dream big, to let their imaginations run wild, and not let anything or any obstacle stop them from pushing on. I loved this movie.